In his first interview on the eagerly-awaited Mani Ratnam flick, Vikram speaks about the contrasting roles he plays in the two versions of the film

Raavanan is almost ready and for Vikram it's another dream come true. “You know, I used to think one film each with Mani Ratnam and Shankar and I wouldn't mind retiring in that blaze of glory,” smiles Vikram. Always a picture of effervescence, mention Ratnam and his Raavanan (Raavan in Hindi), and Vikram's energy level revs up further! He plays solid roles in both the Hindi and Tamil versions of the film — Raavanan is being dubbed in Telugu too. “Audiences in Andhra are bound to be floored by the subject,” Vikram's words ooze confidence.

Interestingly, he isn't replicating the Tamil role in Hindi. “Here I'm Veera and in Hindi, Dev,” he smiles and on a serious note adds, “I hear that it's the first time in the world that an actor simultaneously plays two diametrically different roles in two languages of the same film.”

First straight Hindi film

Raavan isn't just Vikram's first project with Ratnam. It is also his first straight Hindi film. That he is being launched by the same reputed maker whom he yearned to work with sometime ago is a bonus! “You said it. Though Aparajith (Anniyan dubbed in Hindi) didn't do too well, it's been telecast over 17 times so far. Yet Raavan is my first Hindi film,” he explains.

Ratnam popped the question to Vikram just when they were about to begin shooting for Raavanan. “I think you can pull it off. Why not give it a shot?” he suggested. “Are you sure,” was Vikram's pithy response. Being in the habit of working on his physique and make-up to suit every part he portrays Vikram was initially apprehensive because both roles were to be shot almost simultaneously. But locations were very remote and sets may not last for more than a month, he was told.

So what did he do? “I've played little tricks with my body language and expressions and they should work,” he smiles cryptically. “I'm like a bull in one version — tough, rugged and a man who lives for the moment. In the other, my character is poetic, philosophical, fun loving… just about everything.”

After the Hindi audio launch in Mumbai, the attention he got from the girls in particular was surprising. “I mean, after all these years…” he laughs gaily.

Has he tried out a new look for Hindi? “Surely not the clean shaven look. I don't intend to look like other heroes. I've plumped for a close hair-cut and moustache. In Hindi my presence has been kept under wraps as of now. I'm the proverbial dark horse,” he chortles.

Not many know that Vikram had earlier screen-tested for Mani Ratnam's Bombay. “But the wait has been worth it. Over the years, I've evolved as an actor. I feel in Raavan Mani has transcended his earlier achievements. The films should hit the bull's eye.”

Working with Ratnam has been an engaging experience for Vikram. “He's open to your inputs. Raavanan And his energy is unbelievable. After a day's work, we would rehearse the scenes to be shot the next morning, costumes et al, before we dispersed. He would mull over them all night and be ready with the changes he wants.” ”

Vikram can't stop talking about the films' locations. “We've shot entirely in India and you can't but say ‘Wow! We didn't know such beautiful places exist here.' We've gone to the unexplored plateaus of the Malshej Ghats, beyond Pune, and to the mist-covered Orccha near Jhansi where we saw clouds just sitting down on the roads through which we walked. Sameer Chanda's sets have blended so well with the milieu that you can't differentiate between the natural landscapes and those created.”

They've also shot in the remote areas of Kolkata and the rarely-visited terrains on the other side of Chalakudi. “Manikandan and Santhosh Sivan have captured them so beautifully on camera,” comments Vikram.

Big ride to scenic spots

The unit was put up in an ashram of sorts on the hills, from where everyday they travelled for about an hour by car, then geared up for a 30-minute jeep ride after which they trekked another 15 minutes to reach the scenic spots!

“AB (Abhishek Bachchan) and I have given our interpretations of the roles. But Raavan is more an AB film,” says Vikram. And about working with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, he simply says, “It was nice.”

Now that his aspirations have been realised, what more could he want? “I've recorded a song for G.V. Prakash for Madrasapattinam along with MSV. And I'm waiting for a chance to sing for A.R. Rahman. I love his Raavanan compositions, especially ‘Veera' and ‘Usirae Pogudhae.' Also I want to turn director one day… so there's a lot more left to be done,” he guffaws.